The Monterey Peninsula coastline was rugged and beautiful last week while I was at Empty Spools Seminars at the Asilomar conference center. Our class was also rugged and beautiful!
We learned so many things about free motion machine quilting, taking care of sewing machines, the sounds they make that indicate happiness or trouble, materials used that affect our work and make/break our quilting efforts, oiling and cleaning machines, even winding nice bobbins. Oh yes, we learned some great quilting designs as well, how to do them, where to use them in quilts. Below is a summary of some of these things, for quilting on a home sewing machine:
• Beware the “dreaded lagoon of puff”! Whether you are using a lofty batt like wool or even something more flat, if you quilt a design in peninsulas and then come back towards the main design already quilted you may end up with a small pond or lagoon of “puff” that has to be controlled and worked in. It is possible with many of the curving designs, but sometimes it is not. You end up with a pleat. Try and avoid going out on these long journeys away from the main design area because filling in can lead to problems.
• Building designs from the bottom to the top gives you great visibility for spacing and design formation because you can see the design already quilted, in front of the needle.
• Touch the preceding design area – don’t leave gaps as they will draw the eye, rather than the good parts of the design.
• An open-toe foot is crucial for precision. Designs like Bananas, Headbands, Diane-shiko, Gingko, Celtic Bubbles, and many others need the visibility that this foot provides so it is easier and more relaxing to quilt, plus the results look so spectacular when the work is precise, even when done in a larger scale.
• Thread color and choice of design both affect tension. You might have to tweak the upper tension a bit when you change out colors, even in the same thread. Small circular designs like rocks and froth need a lower upper tension number than big designs, or straight or gently curving lines.
• Bobbin thread should not be heavy. Go for lighter weight cottons or specialty bobbin threads, even #100 silk for the most useful and best looking threads for the back of your quilt.
• Don’t be afraid to switch out colors of bobbin threads to match the color of the top thread you are using. Wind them first, it only takes a moment. Check tension before stitching on quilt.
• Quilt a real quilt, a placemat, a table runner. Apply what you learn to something that will be useful, and use lovely fabrics in colors and designs that you really, really like. There are more out there, either in your stash, or new ones that appear all the time in quilt shops and online. Even if you let your cat sleep on it, and make another better one, do it!
• Remember the three important things to get right every single time you machine quilt: tension, stitch length, and color of thread.
• In order to become proficient at any one design you must quilt it a lot. Not a 6” square, but many 6” squares. It is also good to use it on a quilt so that you have to resolve the edges, learn how to meet other designs or parts of the quilt and make it look wonderful, effortless. No one wants to practice every day, so “warm up” and then add the technique or design to a real quilt and do a lot of it. Repeat it throughout the quilt for continuity and cohesiveness.
• Always keep something appropriate and pretty layered and ready to go near the machine, so when you clean and oil it (often!) you can quilt out something and make sure the oil is distributed well at the same time. Some of my best designs and ideas come at these times. Below, a sample of doodling I did after I oiled the hook area of the machine, and wanted to quilt a bit to work any excess oil out. I began with a simple curvy line, then kept going with echoes and curves, added stem and leaves. It was fun, and it helped me get warmed up for my quilting on the project I was doing at the time.
• Experiment with thread so you can express your artistry, but if your machine develops problems, go back to the same lightweight cotton thread top and bobbin, same color, and get things working well with it, then branch out to new threads. You’ll see if it is the machine that has a problem or the new thread. Also, get the right needle for every thread you use.
• Don’t forget about the “float” or pressure adjustment on the foot of the machine. Lessen the pressure for higher loft or working in the puff. Increase it for straight lines so you stay nice and steady. Below, the new foot for Janome machines (and some other brands like Baby Lock) lets you adjust the pressure of the spring on the foot itself so you can float over seam allowances or puffy areas.
• Learn to look ahead of the needle, especially when the foot obstructs your view. Look at negative space instead of the stitching; visualize the puff.
• Take breaks! Stop after those first few feathers for just a second to re-gain concentration, then proceed, so the entire line of feathers will look great. If a design deteriorates, you have lost focus and concentration. As you progress you will be able to work longer with better results.
• Enjoy it all, the colors, the threads, the wonderful dimension that you achieve as you machine quilt your own quilts.
The sun set over the Pacific on our last day at Asilomar. It was a wonderful week with a great class. I'll be back at the end of May, so if you are in that class and have questions, please email me and I'll try and give you an answer.
Keep quilting - your work gets better every day!